Portland Wharf History

Before highways and railroads, the river served the great transportation needs of a young nation. Though smoother and faster than travel by foot, river travel was fraught with danger and delay. One such obstacle was located on the river near Portland and Louisville where travelers encountered the dangerous 28-foot drop at the Falls of the Ohio.

General William Lytle of Cincinnati owned the land next to the harbor below the Falls and in 1811 laid out the town of Portland. He planned to sell the lots to finance his plan to build a canal around the Falls. The town grew as travelers portaged around the Falls and later when Steamboats made it possible to come up river. Later, the port served as the terminus of the New Orleans run. Lytle never fulfilled his dream of building a canal but in 1829, an innovative three-tier lock system allowed the Louisville and Portland canal to by-pass the Falls. The reduced time and effort to pass the Falls improved river traffic and the Portland Wharf expanded into a bustling riverside town.

Today, Metro Parks serves to protect and share this rich maritime past of Portland Wharf Park through the support of partners in the Portland community. Plans for sharing important resources include interpretive exhibits and educational opportunities within and outside the park boundaries. Archaeological and Interpretive work is conducted in cooperation with the Portland Museum, the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey.

Learn more how the events at the Portland Wharf Park have shaped the Portland Community and Louisville. Come share in the maritime history at Portland Wharf Park and Portland Museum. Call the Museum at 776-7678 for more information about how to get involved.



First Lady Laura Bush, through a White House initiative, recognizes Portland as a Preserve America community and awards Portland Museum in partnership with Metro Parks the esteemed Preserve America Grant to interpret the Portland Wharf Park. Contact Portland Museum or Metro Parks to learn more about the development of this valuable historic resource.

“Louisville’s historic Portland neighborhood developed along the falls of the Ohio River to help commerce and travelers heading both east and west. This great neighborhood is not only one of our first Preserve America Community Neighborhoods; it will also receive one of our first Preserve America Grants.”

- First Lady Laura Bush
  March 9, 2006


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